Winning: Travis and Karen MacClendon

Top: aerial image taken before the MacClendons moved in
Bottom: aerial taken approximately one year ago
by Laurie Sheldon

It was a dairy farm for 20 years, and before that, a farm farm - you know, with plows and crops and the like. In early 2005 the MacClendons purchased the property hoping restore its native plant communities and create a more natural landscape for it to remain in indefinitely. I checked out an aerial of the site, but had a hard time wrapping my head around just how big it was. To put it in perspective, I decided to go to the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser’s website to see what the lot dimensions were at the address where I grew up. I remembered it as being large - we had a pool that ran long-ways into the yard with sizable patio surrounding it, and still had room for a shed, a play house, a jungle-gym type of structure to climb on, and enough lawn left over for our dogs to run around at full speed. “Oh,” I said aloud, reading the folio data on my computer screen, “only 20,159 sq. ft.” An acre is 43,560 sq. ft. Geez, I wonder how extensive the White House grounds are. A quick Google search (I love computers for this reason) and I had my answer - 18 acres. The MacClendon property covers 25.

1: Prior to any landscape changes, January 2005
When they moved in, the 2 acre “landscaped area” adjacent to the house (which would fit my childhood home 4.3 times over) had few trees - some small southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), and Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides). This and a two acre cypress dome existed as finger-like projections into a sea of wide-open fields populated with Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), dogfennel (Eupatorium capillifolium), and two types of bluestem (Andropogon virginicus and A. glomeratus var. pumilus).

Planning and Preservation

Although they decided early on to preserve the site's native plants, there were countless other issues to consider. They needed the advice of an expert. As such, the MacClendons enlisted the aid of a Wildlife Biologist from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. He prepared a site survey and a report with habitat recommendations for their tract, in which he identified the site's various vegetative habitats, recommended methods of exotic species control, and laid out a burn rotation schedule.

Out With the New (Invasives)

2: The front driveway, late fall
Hundreds of invasive exotic callery pear (Pyrus calleryana)  and Chinese tallowtree (Sapium sebiferum) needed to be destroyed. Those under six inches in diameter were hand sawed near ground level, their stumps painted with 10:1 mix of water and glyphosate, a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide. Sawed debris was piled in the fields and burned during regular rotation. In the interim, the brush piles made excellent habit for towhees, cardinals, migratory sparrows, and other birds.

Although it was a successful way to treat small nuisance trees, it just wasn't a practical way to deal with the site's larger invasive exotic specimens, some of which neared 3 feet in diameter and had multiple trunks. They had to get creative. Using a cordless drill, they bored holes at about 3 inch intervals around the base of these trees, and made sure to angle the drill bit toward the trees' taproots. The holes were then topped off with a 6:1 mixture of soluble oil to Triclopyr butoxyethyl ester, a selective root-abosorbed, translocated herbicide used to control woody and broadleaf plants. In three months, those trees were toast. A year later, they still showed no sign of green growth (cha-ching!). Next!

Large patches of Japanese climbing fern (Lygodium japonicum) posed a serious problem. They effectively eradicated it by mowing the patches as close to the ground as possible, then hand spraying emergent growth with an 8:1 mix of water and glyphosate with an added to surfactant to give it sticking power. They sprayed from April through October, with repeat applications as occasionally needed. This noxious, weedy plant has been documented as causing severe ecological damage to native plant communtities, and is on the most wanted list (a.k.a."Category I") with the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council... and they nailed it. Nice shootin', pardners. 

In With the Old (Natives)

3: The front circle
Not only have the MacClendons kept a list of which plants they've purchased, they've also recorded what they cost, the date they went in, and where they were installed. Whoa! Can you say organized? I'd bet their sock drawers are meticulous.

Based on their records, they've planted 217 distinct species of native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs, and/or trees - 1,370 plants in total - within the 2 acre "landscaped area" adjacent to the house, with few exceptions. Combined with the plants they preserved, they have a total of (...drumroll...) 300 native species on their property. When selecting plants, they paid close attention to local butterfly populations, and planted larval hosts plants for all of the lepidopterans they might come across; they have counted at least 48 different species so far. Naturally, they also provided for other winged creatures. They're the MacClendons, for Pete's sake! With  6 major bird feeders, a seed broadcast area, and hummingbird feeders, it's no wonder that they've counted 107 species of birds on site.

But wait - there's more...
They hand-planted 1120 seedling longleaf pines in a 2 acre area (and a few separate sites), about half of which have survived deer, drought, and disease. To approximate the look of a natural forest, the seedlings were planted randomly. In addition to these seedlings, they created a special longleaf pine restoration area with medium sized trees and other species that are typical of longleaf pine communities.

4: The bog area
Where's the water garden? I'm not done yet! They established a bog with a water feed from a 50 gallon rainwater barrel and pump-driven well water. The water flows through a buried PVC pipe to a 10 inch wide moat that they created around a bald cypress, then into a concrete-lined pond. In the area surrounding the cypress, they established native bog plants in addition to shrubs and trees that like to keep their feet wet. Their bog was as popular with native wildlife as the only Starbucks would be in a snowed-in airport terminal. It was/is a scene not to miss. Accordingly, the MacClendons installed a large one-way window into the back of their barn so that they could reap the benefits of what they'd sown, and view it all from a comfortable sitting area.

And they haven't stopped. Two weeks ago they planted three live oaks (Q. virginiana), an American holly (Ilex opaca), 6 needle palms (Rhapidophyllum hystrix), and 3 Satusuma oranges, "for survival," according to Travis.


What does the to-do list for maintaining their property include?
  • Eradicate grass and other unwanted vegetation.
  • Replenish the hundreds of barrels of pine straw used as mulch and for weed suppression. 
  • Apply a common fertilizer mix once yearly to major trees.
  • Let Mother Nature deal with established flower beds, except during periods of severe drought
  • Mow yearly with interspersed burning (this has allowed for a spectacular fall display of beach falseglove, Agalinis fasiculata, whose pink blooms, paired with the lemon yellow of the Canada goldenrod, create the most breathtaking field of flowers in the area)

ImPRESSed? Yes!

As if that's not enough, they've established a formal herbarium that currently contains over 900 specimens! All specimens have been vouchered by either the Godfrey Museum of Florida State University or the Herbarium of the University of South Florida. The herbarium, a volunteer resource by the MacClendons under the University of Florida' s Calhoun County IFAS Extension, may be viewed on-line at

The Host and Hostess with the Mostest

The Master Gardeners of Jackson County have held meetings at the MacClendons. So has the North American Butterfly Association, Hairstreak Chapter. The Women’s Club of Blountstown and the Torreya Garden Club of Calhoun County selected the MacClendons to speak to their organization(s) about how and what they've achieved on their property, which Travis referred to as "their yard" in a written description of the site.

They even invited me to come for a visit if I had the chance. Really! In an email between Shirley Denton and I, Shirley said, "if you do get a chance to get to Blountstown, I recommend taking them up on their invitation. Wonderful people." I responded with, "they seem it. I can't imagine what kind of motivation it must take to restore a 25 acre property. Even the energizer bunny would throw its drum sticks in the air and say, 'uh, too much work. I'm outta here...'". Her three word reply, a testament to the MacClendons' hard work and accomplishments, was simply, "and they're winning..."

5 - Travis and Karen MacClendon at their home in Blountstown, FL

 Species in photos* (named more or less, from the left to right, rear to front)

2 - The front driveway:
American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), live oak (Quercus virginiana), lanceleaf blanketflower (Gaillardia aestivalis), cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto), saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), groundsel tree (Baccharis halimifolia), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida)

3 - The front circle:
Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides), oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), red maple (Acer rubrum), Fakahatchee grass (Tripsacum dactyloides), salt meadow cordgrass (Spartina patens), beach false foxglove (Agalinus fasiculata), Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), soft greeneyes (Berlandiera pumila), pinkscale gayfeather (Liatris elegans), vanillaleaf (Carphephorus odoratissimus var. odoratissimus), woody goldenrod (Chrysoma pauciflosculosa),  narrowleaf silkgrass (Pityopsis graminifolia), lanceleaf blanketflower (Gaillardia aestivalis), firewheel (Gaillaridia pulchella), broomsedge bluestem (Andropogon virginicus)

4 - The bog:
Carolina willow (Salix caroliniana), American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), woodland pinkroot (Spigelia merilandica), Virginia willow (Itea virginica), Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), Bandana-of-the-Everglades (Canna flaccida), herb-of-grace (Bacopa monnieri), prairie iris (Iris hexagona), duck potato (Sagittaria latifolia), pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata), swamp milkweed (Asclepias perennis), Leavenworth’s coreopsis (Coreopsis leavenworthii), chipola coreopsis (Coreopsis integrifolia), whitetop pitcherplant (Sarracenia leucophylla), hooded pitcherplant (Sarracenia minor), scarlet rosemallow (Hibiscus coccineus), cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), royal fern (Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis), coralbean (Erythrina herbacea), bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)

*There are many more species in each area than listed; included are a few plants that are important contributors to the planting area but are not visible in the image.

All numbered photos provided graciously by Karen and Travis MacClendon


daisy g said…
Gorgeous renewal of the property! Kudos!
Hobo Botanist said…
Way to go Travis! Truly awesome and inspiring.
Cassundry said…
That is truly inspiring. What a great job they have done!
Anonymous said…
Very well done. I am a newbie to the importance of natives, and this is a spectacular example of how easy and practical it is to use them.
Thanks! I think you'll find that the toughest part about using native plants is learning which they are and their cultural requirements... After they're established, natives are, more often than not, much less time-consuming to maintain than exotics/invasives.
Anonymous said…
I used to dream of doing a project like this in my native Wisconsin. This project and the article about it are excellent!

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